This note accompanies the follow episode(s):
The Writer’s Almanac for May 3, 2017: Polar Bear in the Central Park Zoo

May 3, 2017: birthday: May Sarton

It’s the birthday of poet, novelist, and memoirist May Sarton (books by this author), born Eleanor Marie Sarton in Wondelgem, Belgium, in 1912. Her father was a science historian, and her mother was an artist, and the family moved to Boston, Massachusetts, when May was three years old. She received a scholarship to Vassar, but by this time she had fallen in love with the theater and her dream was to act and direct, so she declined the offer. While studying acting and voice, she wrote poetry, and a series of her sonnets was published in Poetry magazine in 1930, when she was 18 years old. By 1935, she had decided that writing, not acting, was her life’s work. She wrote more than 50 books: poetry, novels, memoirs, and journals. Her memoir Journal of a Solitude (1973) has been called “the watershed in women’s autobiography.”

In World of Light, a 1979 documentary about Sarton, she said, “I don’t write poems very often and when I do, they come in batches and they always seem to be connected to a woman, in my case, a muse who focuses the world for me and sometimes it’s a love affair and sometimes it’s not.” She wrote a novel, Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing, in 1965, which is often referred to as her “coming out” novel. She worried, with good reason, that writing about homosexuality would pigeonhole or even dismiss her as a “lesbian writer,” and for many years to come, that’s exactly what happened.

By 1990, she was unable to write anymore as a result of a stroke, but she produced three journals and a volume of verse over the last five years of her life, by dictating them into a tape recorder.

“You choose to be a novelist,” she once said, “but you’re chosen to be a poet. This is a gift and it’s a tremendous responsibility. You have to be willing to give something terribly intimate and secret of yourself to the world and not care, because you have to believe that what you have to say is important enough.”